5 Mistakes Teachers Make with Arts Integration (and how to avoid them)

41 Min Listen  •  Certification Series

Today I’m excited to share some insider information with you about arts integration. You know, after doing this work for over a decade and being in education for 2 decades, I’ve seen lots of ways of approaching arts integration. And to be honest, some are good and some are just dangerous. So today, we’re diving into the 5 mistakes teachers make with arts integration and how you can avoid them.

Now one way to avoid these mistakes for sure is through our Arts Integration Certification program. We train hundreds of educators every year how to use a proven approach to arts integration that builds creativity, increases student achievement, and supports teacher empowerment. And enrollment is open for Certification right now. So if you’re curious and want to learn more, I definitely want to encourage you to check it out.

Before I dig into these 5 mistakes, I want to share with you a little story. Back in 2009, I was in the middle of my master’s degree in Education Administration and I was also super burnt out as a music educator. It felt like no one really valued the arts in my building and yet, I knew it was a place that students thrived. So for my master’s program, I decided to conduct my action research on using arts integration in a school.  During this time, I was working on just figuring out what arts integration is, how to lead this in a school, what worked and what didn’t. Nobody had done this before in my district, or really in my state. I did find some schools that were using it, but people weren’t really strategically leading it at the time.

So, it was hard to figure out. Throughout this period of time, I started a blog called EducationCloset – which is now the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM – as a way to document what was going on. Because I thought, you know what, nobody’s sharing what works and what doesn’t. That’s how I started. That’s how this whole Institute began, as me just trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. This became like a lab for me.

In 2009, at our school, the reason why arts integration became really important for us was because on the surface, everything seemed to be doing really well. Our test scores were amazing and our students seemed happy. So…why arts integration? Patience, grasshopper. Stay with me here.

At the time, I was the music teacher, so scores really didn’t “affect me”. Except that our whole school was focused on scores, because our whole district was focused on scores, because our entire state and nation was focused on scores, so of course it does impact me as the music teacher. But, I was also in the middle of my graduate program, and I was studying about arts integration.

I went back, and I was looking at these scores going, “Is arts integration even something we have time for? Do we have to do something to increase these scores?” Other than, you know, first world problems of increasing reading scores by 3%. But, under the surface of those numbers, there was a real problem. Our overall scores looked phenomenal, but the real story was that in math and reading for special ed, our students were scoring at 55%, and for anybody who was not Caucasian, we were at 75%. There was a gap of 20-40% between our special ed and minority students and everyone else.

This is embedded in this overall score. It was kind of hiding there. The other thing that was interesting is that we started to see that students who were gifted and talented were actually slipping in their scores, so we had this whole phenomenon of moving towards the middle. My proposal to my principal at the time was, “Let’s give arts integration a try, and see if it impacts these groups that seem to have gone forgotten, or that we’ve buried somewhere in all of this wonderful data that we share with everybody else.”

My then-principal is a fantastic guy named John Birus. He is wonderful and says, “You know what? Go ahead. Give it a try. Let’s see what happens. We did that, and in one year, my friends, our overall scores went up a whole 1%. Woo, right? But, let’s dig into the scores in math and reading for special ed, and math and reading for minorities at that same time. 75% from 55%, and 89% up from 75%. That was a 20% increase. And, my friends, this was just a pilot that we did.

The second year that we did this, we did this for the whole school. I share these numbers with you because those numbers, that journey, what we worked on in that year and beyond led to me becoming Maryland’s first district wide arts integration specialist. I actually left that position at that elementary school, and moved into a district wide arts integration specialist position for an entire county in our state. That was the first position of its kind. I’ve been invited to speak at the US Department of Education. I’ve worked with schools in all 50 states, and the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM now reaches 250,000 people every single month.

When you ask, “Is there a need for arts integration? Is this possible? Does this exist?” Yes, it exists. But more than this success story at the beginning, the real magic is what happens in between, from where you start to where you go next.

I want to share with you some of the mistakes that I made in that journey that I see a lot of schools making, a lot of teachers and leaders making, that I want you to be able to avoid. Because, it took me so much longer. My journey took way longer than it should’ve, had I known these mistakes. That’s the purpose today.

Mistake #1: Waiting for Permission

Mistake number one is waiting for others to buy-in and get excited. For people to kind of join in. I think when we start, we have so much energy for arts integration. We have so much passion for integrating with STEAM, and arts integration, that we feel like others are just going to flock to us. Come, flock to us like birdies, like we’re all going to join together. But that doesn’t happen. People get scared, and they get nervous. Sometimes we start this, and nobody joins in. It’s like we’re hitting our heads against the wall, and it’s so frustrating!

My first tip for that, ways to build momentum, is to show, not tell. Here’s what I mean by that. When I started, that first year, we started with a book club. I know, none of you have ever done a book club at your school, right? This is a PD that we always use. We did a book study, and I chose a book that was highly recommended on Amazon. It’s a good book. I’ve read it several times actually, Renaissance in the Classroom.

But, for a starter, for somebody who was just starting out in their building, and their building had no clue, and I was trying to convince people to come on board, it was the wrong book to choose, because they had these massive nine-week projects in there. They’re awesome projects, but when you’re trying to build buy-in for people, they’re looking at these huge projects. And I literally had a teacher throw the book back at me during a meeting. Throw it at me and say, “I can’t do this. How am I expected to assess something that I don’t know anything about?”

I had the art teacher tell me, “I can’t do this. I don’t have enough supplies for this. Who’s going to pay for that?” Just back and forth. It was awful. What I figured out, though, is that we needed to take a field trip to some schools. There were two schools that were within a 45-minute drive of us. I called the schools up. They were using arts integration, and I said, “Can we come visit you?” One of them was doing really, really great. The other one was just kind of in the middle of their journey.

We went and visited both schools. I told everybody. I was like, “Look, if we go to this, and it’s too overwhelming for you, then we’re going to rethink the process, but let’s just go with an open mind, and take a look. Then we’ll come back, and we’ll debrief, and maybe we’ll have some ideas for at least some lessons, right?” So we go, and everybody sees arts integration in action, and their wheels start turning like, “Oh, I could do that,” or, “I would do some modifications here, but I could definitely handle what she was doing.”

That was so much more powerful – to be able to see it rather than talk about it or just read about. I’m not saying don’t do those things. Absolutely, you should, and there are wonderful books out there that you can use as a supplement, but when you start, show them. How do you show them? Okay, if you don’t have an arts integration school near you, which there’s a lot of places where that does not exist, start with arts strategies first. If you need help finding art strategies, go to the Institute site and head over to the strategies area – I’ve got you.

You can pick any arts area. You can pick visual arts, or dance, or music, anything you want. Start with a strategy. Introduce it during a staff meeting. A strategy is just that. It’s not intimidating, and it’s like five or 10 minutes. It’s not supposed to take a long time. This is not an hour. This is not a full lesson. It’s a strategy. I always start with See, Think, Wonder. You look at an image, and you ask them, “What do you see?” They list everything that they see, and get them really, really concrete. Not making any assumptions. Everything that they see.

Then, “What do you think about this? What do you think about the image? What do you think is going on here?” Then, “What do you wonder? What questions do you have about this?” This is a visual thinking strategy out of Project Zero. It’s wonderful to use with visual art. You can also do it with music, and have them play a piece, and have them, “What do you hear? What do you think? What do you wonder?” You can do it with a piece of dance. There’s a lot of different ways that you could leverage that strategy.

It’s a quick strategy. And, they can immediately use it in their classroom, and see an impact. That’s what you want to do first. You want to start with showing people something first, and then work into the theory behind it, and the why, and the research, and how other people are doing it. Because, human beings need to be able to visually, and orally, and kinesthetically connect with something. The minute that they can do that, and then you give them an action step. You’ve got to say, “Okay, now I’ve taken you through this strategy. Now, I want you to put this in place in your next lesson, and the next time we come back, talk to me about that.”

Or, “I’m going to check in with your students in like two weeks, and find out if you’ve been using that strategy, and ask them what they thought about it,” and then be able to bring that feedback back to them. Because, that again gets that momentum going quickly. The other piece about momentum is that consistency matters. It doesn’t matter if you commit to doing two arts integration lessons a year for people in your building. Or, using one art strategy from each area this year. That’s small, right? That’s tiny. But, the fact that you do it, and you’re intentional about it, and you’re consistent, that matters, because if you are inconsistent …

So, let’s say you have a faculty meeting that addresses it once, and then you don’t touch it again until the spring because, “We ran out of time, or we had to bump this, we had to move that.” Right? This happens. We get that. But, you have to have consistency in it, because if people see that it comes back, and it’s like that penny that keeps popping up, they’re going to know that this is not a one and done. That we are really committed to this, and I’m going to get on board. But people aren’t going to come on board right away. We are in overload of all the new stuff coming at us every year.

“Oh, this year we’re going to do PBL, and this year we’re going to try arts integration, and this year we’re going to focus on social-emotional learning.” So everybody’s kind of like, “Okay, yeah. That’s the flavor of the month.” They’re not going to come on board until they see that there is some consistent action happening over time. So, patience grasshopper, right? Be consistent. Start with strategies first, and show them the power of this. Don’t just talk about it.

What is one way that you can build excitement for arts integration?


All right, moving on. Mistake number two. Trying to carve out extra time to do this. Nobody has time. There is never enough time. Never, ever, ever, especially when it comes to schools. We have way too much to cover, not enough time to get through it, and it’s always like we’re running after our tails, right? Here’s the thing, if you’re going to try to carve out more time when you don’t have enough to start with, you’re starting from less than zero, so you can’t think about it that way. You can’t think about, how do we carve out time for arts integration?

Instead, you want to think about, how can we maximize our time? How can we make the most of what we have? Here’s a couple of tips for that. First of all, be intentional and write it down, because if it’s not written down, it doesn’t happen. What does that mean? That means decide, today. “I’m going to commit to one arts integration lesson this spring, just to start.” Or, “I’m going to commit to two arts integration lessons per quarter.” Whatever it is, wherever you are in your journey, think about it that way, and then think about, “When am I going to do it?” Write it down. “I’m going to do it on the week of April 15th,” or, “I’m going to do it the week of May 12th,” whatever that is.

So that you know, you’ve committed to this. When it’s written down, it happens. If you don’t write it, it’s just in your brain. The other part is, to maximize your time, I want you to think about two to four areas in your curriculum where your students struggle, where they every single time you get to that lesson, your stomach drops, because you know it’s going to take three times as long to get through that lesson than anything else that you do, because your students don’t get it, it’s frustrating.

They always, always are like, “I don’t get this. I want to pull my hair out. I’m so frustrated.” Think about those areas, and replace those lessons with an arts integration lesson. Because here’s what happens, in an arts integration lesson you are connecting two standards, intentionally. You’re connecting an ELA standard, and an art standard, or a math standard and a music standard. You’re connecting these pieces.

But as teachers, you and I both know this. While we focus on those two in a lesson, you’re going to hit way more than just those two focal standards, right? Because, when you’re talking about fractions, you’re also maybe taking a look at decimals, or you might actually be looking at all of the other things that led up to that lesson in fractions, because it builds upon itself in our curriculum. So, you’re never just hitting those two. You’re going to hit a combined amount of standards when you do this lesson.

Because you would have typically three lessons to get through something in this area of struggle, now you can replace it with one lesson that is engaging, and exciting for students, and it’s a totally new way to look at it, and they’re going to have more success with that, so it actually takes you less time in that piece. That’s where I want you to take a look. It’s not about adding an arts integration in, because you don’t have time to add anything else in. It’s about replacing what’s not working, replace what’s broken with an arts integration lesson.

The other thing I want you to think about is putting your own creativity muscles to work. Sometimes we look at things the way that they are, and think that we can’t change that, but that’s not necessarily true. For instance, in your schedule, if you’re thinking about, “How do I collaborate with other teachers?” And we’re going to talk about this in a little bit. But, “How do I get that done? How do I arrange my time? I can’t change my schedule.” No, but you can take a look at maybe having your team get together with an arts specialists, and bringing in two whole substitutes for an hour.

One to cover your team’s group, and one to cover the arts teacher that you’re meeting with, and maybe you have the library come in to do a presentation during that hour, so that you can sit with that arts specialist for a dedicated period of time, and knock out two or three lesson ideas with them. That’s a totally different way to look at your schedule than maybe you’d considered before. There are lots of creative ways to adjust our schedules, to think about planning together, to consider where to place things in our curriculum. Be thinking creatively yourself. I’m going to recommend a book to you called The Blue Ocean.

The Blue Ocean Strategy is a way to break out of the typical thinking that we all get stuck in, and to rethink something from a totally different angle that you didn’t understand about or know about before. What’s that saying? “You don’t know what you don’t know,” right? The Blue Ocean Strategy helps you figure out what it is that you don’t know, and adjust your thinking, so definitely take a look at that. When it comes to collaborative planning, again a huge time suck for a lot of us, but so important.

Here’s the trouble with collaborative planning. Typically, when the classroom teachers are teaching, the arts teachers either have planning time, or they’re with somebody else. Or, if the classroom teachers have time available, that’s when the arts teachers are working with their classes, right? Our schedules in and of themselves don’t lend themselves to arts integration in general. One of the things that I like to do for collaborative planning is actually do a pre-planning matrix, so that when we can find some time to collaboratively plan, whether it’s over this amazing invention called email, or in the hallway, or if you were lucky enough to have that time, then you can definitely use that for the collaborative planning matrix.

But the pre-planning matrix actually helps you front load a lot of the work. The pre-planning matrix is something that you use individually. The pre-planning matrix works where each individual teacher creates this for themselves. Let’s say I’m the fourth grade teacher, and I want to collaborate with the art teacher, and I have this lesson idea for … Well let’s actually use this, so we’re working in dance, which would actually be an elementary school PE teachers for the most part, and middle and high school we’d be working with perhaps some dance teachers, or maybe PE, depending on how your district does it, and I’m the math teacher.

I really want to take a look at transformations. What could that look like? I don’t know. As a math teacher, I’m going to fill out my standard. My content area is going to be about slides, flips, and turns, and I really want to focus on translating the terms to new words, and putting them to practice. For example, instead of slides, flips, and turns, we have translations, rotations, and reflections. In fourth or fifth grade, students are actually required to use the new terminology, even though we introduce slides, flips, and turns as the terms earlier.

We want them to be using these new words, and really understand this. Perhaps, for the PE teacher, I’m going to be writing out this dance standard about patterns of movement, and being able to create choreography from patterns, because that’s part of my curriculum too. I fill out that part. Then, we get together, and we bring together the pre-planning matrix, and fill in the areas where we did not address individually. If I’m the math teacher, I’m only doing the content area piece when I’m doing it by myself. If I’m that PE teacher, I’m only doing the arts area if I’m doing it by myself.

But when I come together, that’s when I fill in the blanks, so that I can compare. Then we can sit down and talk about, “Okay, so if I’m looking at slides, flips, and turns, and patterns of movement, what am I really talking about? How things move, right? I really want to know, are they able to apply what they know about both of these content areas? This is what I really want the to be able to walk away with.” We can then take this, and work on the collaborative planning matrix together.

By doing this individually, we take away all that extra time that happens when you sit down with somebody without any kind of information and go, “Okay, what’s your idea? Okay, what’s your idea? What about this? What about this?” Soon, 30 to 45 minutes is gone. Right? If you can clarify your thinking ahead of time, bring it together, you can head straight into this collaborative planning matrix of, “What do we want our kids to know? How do we know that they’ve learned it? What do we do if they haven’t learned it? What are we going to do to extend the learning?”

This allows us to then create that right and tight lesson. That’s another trick for time. Use your time wisely. If there’s going to be a section of time where it’s like 30 minutes of just kind of gabbing and talking, that’s not going to benefit you. Go back, get it refined, and then bring it together. Once you do that, this planning matrix, once you’ve had everything pre-done, that should take about 30 minutes you guys to pull it together, which is a highly interactive 30 minutes, because you can walk away with aligned standards, strategies your students can use, an end product, and how you plan to measure growth.

From there, it’s filling in the lesson plan. See how this kind of strategy kind of shifts a little bit how we typically think of collaborative planning? That’s going to help your time focused. Action steps for mistake number two. Where are pockets of time in your curriculum or day that are underutilized? Where are some time pieces where it’s fluff, and you could fill that in with some really great work to get some of this rolling your classes? Write that down, either in your workbook, or in your journal, wherever it is that you’re taking notes. Where are pockets of time?

You’re not looking for huge stretches of time. Nobody has that. Nobody has like 30 to 60 minutes of time in your curriculum or your day, but you have small pockets of time that you can leverage.


Mistake number three. You don’t know your audience. That sounds a little harsh, but here’s what I mean by that. Arts integration happens on a continuum. It doesn’t happen at the highest level right away. People are in lots of different stages, and I’m sure that the people who are joining us tonight, all of you are at different stages. We start at the basic level of enhancement, which is where it uses one area to support or service another in a lesson.

This is where we see those craft projects come in, like the shadowboxes that demonstrate the planets for a science lesson. Are the shadowboxes cute? Yes. Are they visually beautiful? Absolutely. But what art standard did you use, and did you focus on in creating that? Probably not. So, that means that the art would be used in service of the main lesson, “main lesson” of the science. Arts enhancement. There’s also little to no discussion between the content and fine arts area teachers about the lesson.

Listen, there is nothing wrong with enhancement. In fact, most people start with enhancement. Understanding that that’s where people start, and telling them, “That’s okay.” That’s huge. That allows people to feel like, “Okay, I’m at this level, and I understand that.” Then, we have theme based, which is where the lesson is based on a theme that is common between the two ares. There is some discussion surrounding the theme alignment between content and fine arts teachers about the lesson, but there’s still no standards alignment going on, right? We’re looking at a common theme that could go on, like transformation.

Maybe that’s metamorphosis in science, and maybe it’s transforming shapes in visual art. Same theme, but we’re not necessarily looking at standards alignment. Middle of the road is inquiry driven, which is where the lesson in both areas centers around an essential question, so we’re getting closer. We might have the same theme, but we’re looking around that inquiry piece of a crucial essential question that connects to both areas. There’s also some discussion and planning around those essential questions for both content and fine arts area teachers in the lesson, and possibly some lesson collaboration.

That’s middle of the road on that continuum. For a co-taught lesson, the lesson is co-taught by the content teachers in two or more areas. That might look like part of the lesson is done in the math classroom, part of the lesson done in the music classroom. It goes back and forth. It could be that the music teacher and the math teacher are teaching the lesson together in one of their rooms. There’s a lot of different ways that co-taught can look, but a co-taught lesson is where the teachers are intentionally coming together in lesson design and implementation.

The planning occurs between both teachers, and portions of the lesson may be taught in each content area separately. Remember, you’re trying to get that foundational stuff first, and then pull it together. That’s where a co-taught lesson really works well. Then, finally we have full fledged integration, where the lesson is co-planned by two teachers, the content teachers and the fine arts teacher, is grounded in equitably teaching and assessing standards in both areas. The plan incurs between both teachers. The lesson can be co-taught or individually taught within a single classroom. That does not matter. However it best serves the students in the lesson.

I can easily, very quickly tell whether teachers are really focused on integration by asking them, “What standard in the other content area are you addressing?” And, “Are you assessing that standard? Are you doing so equitably?” That’s how I can tell if it’s really integrated. Now, I’m telling you right now, everybody is at different places on this continuum, and by going straight for arts integration from the very beginning, with people in your school, with getting people on board, you’re going to have a lot of people who are very overwhelmed, because many of them are starting all the way back in enhancement.

To jump from there all the way to integration without any of the steps in between is really challenging. My recommendation is to go back and actually ask them, give them this continuum, share that information and ask them, “Where do you feel like you fall here?” So that everybody does a little self-assessment, and that you’ve got a really good understanding of where they are, and how you can best help them move forward. Where do you think most of the teachers you work with fall on that continuum?

Think about the teachers in your building, who you’re working with, where do you think most of them fall? Maybe like 50% of them fall in enhancement, and then you’ve got another 20 to 30% who are in theme based and inquiry driven. Then you’re working maybe 10, 20% at co-taught or integration. Think about that, and write that down. Where are most of the people you work with on this continuum? Because when you know your audience, when you know where they are, then you can help them.


Mistake number four. Planning without expecting chaos. We all plan with the very best intentions. We all plan thinking that it’s going to go beautifully. We have this wonderful utopian vision in our brain of how this amazing lesson is going to go, and then it all falls to pieces, my friends, because it always will. Understand that chaos will happen. Arts integration is a beautiful mess. It’s never a straight line.

So, it’s important that we plan for that chaos. Here are some things that I know are going to get in the way of anything, of any kind of initiative that I’m working on with arts integration. New initiatives and priorities. Every year there’s going to be something new. Let’s accept that, and move on. Understand that there’s going to be new initiatives and priorities. How are you going to deal with that? How are you going to adjust to bring in that new initiative? You’ve got to be thinking about that all the time, because arts integration is an approach. It’s not a curriculum in and of itself. It’s something that works when it’s appropriate.

So, if your school next year brings in project-based learning, Project Leads The Way, or whatever, and you’ve been focusing on arts integration, well then you’ve got to pivot a little bit and think about, “Okay, how would I bring in something like PBL?” I’ll give you another example. Just in the last two weeks with the tragedy that happened in Florida, I can’t tell you how many superintendents have talked to me, talked to my sales director about our curriculum and says, “This is great, and this could be a great focus for us, but what do you have on social-emotional learning? Because, that is now where my focus has to be. It has to be on safety, and security, and social-emotional learning, and that is what I need for next year.”

So, I already know we’re going to see a lot of social-emotional learning push for next year, because this is where the concern is. That should not be something that leads after one year, but that is certainly coming around the bend. Knowing that, how does arts integration fit with that? Does it? I think it does, but you have to ask those questions. Does this fit? If it does, how can we make this easier? And show the connections, without having it be one more thing.

Also, you’re going to need to expect that you’re going to get pushback from others. Teachers, admin, parents, community. It doesn’t matter. You’re going to get pushback, because people don’t understand it right away. Sometimes, people are going to say, “Why are you spending all your time creating these crafts, when I need you to teach my kid how to read?” You have to understand that people don’t get it right away, and you’re going to need to do some advocacy work upfront. You’re going to need to be thinking about how can we showcase why this is important. What do I need to add or share in our building to make this visible? To make people understand that this is something that is meaningful for our students, and helps them with 21st century skills?

You’re also going to see that people don’t know where to find standards, or how to align standards, or heck, what standards are. I’ve walked into buildings assuming that everybody knew their standards, their own standards, and ready to teach them how to align others, to find out that people didn’t even know where to find their own standards. That is no judgment. It’s just that as teachers, we are overwhelmed. We are overworked. We have a lot on our plates, and we typically have a curriculum that shares those things with us, right?

When you’re talking about arts integration and alignment of standards, people may not know where their standards are, much less how to align them. Heck – maybe you don’t know where your standards are!  And hey – there is no judgment here.  You have alot on your plate and typically, the standards are already provided for you in your curriculum.  My point, though, is that you’ve got to know that standards alignment is a big part of this process and you’ve got to be ready for that. Make it easy for yourself and others. Give them a place, a digital hub, maybe a Google Doc with links. “Here’s where you find this set of standards. Here’s where you find this set,” to make that super easy for them. You’re going to have pushback or chaos around assessment. Assessments is like a whole other topic, my friends. We’ve done an entire webinar before on assessment, because that’s the first thing that gets people really nervous about arts integration and STEAM.

“How do I assess something that I am not a master teacher in?” You’ve got to be ready for that, and you’ve got to be able to answer that question. My typical answer, my first response is always that assessment and evaluation are different. That an evaluation is a judgment, an assessment is a measurement of growth. I can measure growth from beginning to end in any area, but I’m not qualified to providing judgment of mastery for English language arts, because that’s not where my degree lies, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable with providing an evaluation, but I could provide an assessment.

Being ready with a response like that, that gives them an example, and shows them what that looks like, that’s important. Be ready for lesson flops. We have all had lessons that look beautiful on paper, and then when you put them in the classroom, they just absolutely fall apart. That’s normal, and it’s a great learning experience for both your students, and for yourself to show students, “You know what? We tried something different. It didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? Let’s dive into this question. Where did this fall apart?” Because then they can see that you’re modeling exactly the kind of growth mindset that you’re looking for from them.

Finally, also be aware that staff changes are going to happen, and every time you have new staff come on board, there is going to be an adjustment period where you’re going to have to train some new staff, or you’re going to have to give them some information, or you’re going to have to kind of bring them back on board. Again, I would recommend having an area set aside, whether it is digital, whether it’s a couple, like a manual of some sort. I hate saying a manual, because it feels like 20th century right there. But, have a hub of some sort that gives people a general understanding of what this is, provides them with just enough PD so that they can at least wrap their mind around it and get started, so that they don’t feel like they’re constantly playing catch up, because that’s what happens.

You bring a new person on board, and they’ve got to feel like they’ve become a part of the school community, they have to catch up on that curriculum that’s different than what maybe they taught before. They have new expectations for leadership. It’s a lot. Right? So, they’re going to let that fall off the plate if it’s not something that’s directly going to impact their teaching, their students, or their success in that classroom, so providing them with just enough to get them ready to allow them to feel empowered to try it is important, so finding a place for that is helpful.

So your action step for mistake number for. What chaos can you plan for now? Thinking back to all of what I shared, but also what you know is going on in your buildings right now, what chaos can you plan for now, and what do you need to be prepared? Write that down. What are some things that you need to be prepared for that? Is it a digital place you need to set up, like a Google Classroom, or a Google Doc, or a place or a portfolio of some sort, or a flip grid, or anything? What do you need to get together and get prepared to plan for the chaos that you know is going to come?  That’s going to save you a ton of time, and a lot of overwhelm.


Mistake number five, and this is the one that I do every single day, my friends. Trying to do too much at once. If you were to take a look at my calendar right now for this week, you would either cry or laugh, either one, because there’s no way I’m going to get through everything that’s on that calendar. I know, I know for a fact that you’d do the same thing. Everybody in my office laughs at me. They literally come over to my desk and look at my calendar and they’re like, “You’re crazy. This is ridiculous.” We all try to pack too much in all at the same time, and that is a huge mistake, because what happens is that by trying to do everything, and spread it all out, and do all of this stuff, we do nothing well.

You end up dropping the ball on a lot of things, and then it becomes more chaos for you, and then you have no time, and there is no planning, and you before you know it are all the way back at the ground zero. Here’s what I recommend for you for this. First tip is to start small to grow tall. Pick just two standards to start. Don’t try to create a whole new curriculum for your team in a summer. That’s nuts. Don’t do that. I say that laughingly because I’ve tried it. It’s taken us a year to write our curriculum, and we’re still working on it, and still flushing through some of those pieces, so start small. Just pick two standards to start, and know that that is more than okay.

Also, use a 90-day plan. I can’t tell you how many times this has saved me. You start with your focus area. You pick three total focus areas for 90 days. That’s three months. One per month. You can spread it out however you want, but think about one priority area for each of those 30 days. You’ve got priority one, two, and three. What is going to be your criteria of success for that priority? Maybe focus area one is work on your classroom management, because right now your classroom management is off the wall, and there’s something broken, and you don’t know what it is.

That’s going to be a focus area. What are going to be some criteria of success for you when it comes to managing a very active, interactive classroom? Is it going to be that students are able to go through a process on their own without coming to you for instructions every single second? Maybe that’s a criteria of success for you. Maybe it’s that you get through everything that you need to get through in the designated time that you have for a certain amount of lessons. That’s not every lesson, but a certain amount of time. You’re specific with your criteria of success.

Then, you have a set of action steps that you want to take to meet that focus area, and get to that success. Then, you give yourself a date for that. Maybe your first action step for classroom management is to read everything that Michael Linsin has on classroom management, and you’re going to do that by April 5th. You write that down as an action step. You have these very specific things that you’re doing, and you’re working on these very strategically. What this does is it breaks everything down for you in a much more manageable piece. Also, I want you to know that overwhelm and stress are choices that we make. They are choices that we make.

I say this because I get overwhelmed and stressed very easily, and I have to remind myself of this. Stress and overwhelm are choices, so if we can find pieces like this sprint plan, like a 90-day plan for ourselves to make that easier to break it down, and use that, use those kinds of strategies. Make a new choice, because you don’t have to be overwhelmed with this. Also, to help with that overwhelm, have a ready-made resource available like topic list, driving questions, a lesson bank, an assessment possibilities. Get working on that. Maybe that’s part of your 90-day plan. Maybe that’s one of the things you want to work on is having some ready-made resources available.


Now if you’ve listened to this entire episode and your head is spinning, you’re normal. That’s a lot to take in. And honestly, if you are going to try and implement all of this yourself, I think you’re setting yourself up for a rough road. This is the BIGGEST lesson I’ve had to learn: don’t do this alone.

Arts Integration is an inherently collaborative process. And there are so many places to get lost. You need to have support in this process. Whether that’s through our Arts Integration Certification program (which gives you a cohort and a coach) or bringing in strategic professional development, you need people there who have been through this process and can help you side-step some of the overwhelm.

Additionally, don’t sell yourself short. Our method of arts integration is intensive, but it also WORKS. There are lots of variations of “being in the realm of arts integration” out there. And I’m not going to sugarcoat this: they are nice, but they won’t get you the results you’re looking for. Using arts integration strategies does increase engagement. And that’s great. But how does that transfer to deeper learning and supporting student and teacher success in the long-term? Some of the best research I’ve found has shown that the biggest gains for students happen with arts integration that is aligned to standards, teaches both content areas equitably, and intentionally assesses both areas. That’s way more than simple strategies or a one-off lesson. And trying to do that on your own is really challenging. So I’d highly encourage you to find the support you need and advocate for your school or district to invest in it.

Additional Resources:

Arts Integration Certification

Blue Ocean Strategy Book

Renaissance in the Classroom Book


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